It’s hard to imagine modern life without plumbing, isn’t it? Even for people who prefer to live “off the grid,” it’s essential to have some sort of water treatment system in place.
This was true for ancient civilizations as well. Although the Romans may not have had the modern conveniences that we do, they did have indoor toilets, running water, and efficient sewage systems.
Technology certainly has come a long way since then, but it’s amazing how long people have been using plumbing systems.
Plumbing’s humble beginnings
Plumbing systems have been around for nearly as long as humans have, and evidence of this goes back to the Neolithic Era. People were digging permanent wells as a source of fresh water in the Jezreel Valley of Israel as long ago as 6500 BC. In Skara Brae, an amazingly well-preserved Neolithic village in Scotland, archaeologists discovered evidence of indoor latrines as well as two-channel systems for bringing in fresh water and disposing of wastewater. These houses were last occupied around 5,000 years ago.
As civilizations advanced, so did their plumbing. The Bronze Age city of Lothal, located in what is now India, featured a covered sewer system that emptied into nearby bodies of water or municipal cesspools. Thanks to this technology, every house in the city had an indoor toilet!
These innovations spread throughout the ancient world. Archaeologists have found evidence of plumbing systems in areas stretching from the British Isles to East Asia. And as civilization marched on, plumbing technology advanced more and more.
Roman plumbing innovations
The ancient Romans were the masters of modern innovation. Not only did they have baths and flushing toilets in their homes, but they also had public latrines and a comprehensive sewer system. Rome’s eleven aqueducts supplied the city with water, often sourced from miles away, and the wastewater was drained into the huge Cloaca Maxima (which means Greatest Sewer).
However, ancient Rome wasn’t quite as efficient as it’s made out to be! Many homeowners chose not to link their toilets to the public sewer system, thanks to the rats that could have climbed out of the sewers into their houses. Another serious hazard was the fire. The waste in the sewers generated gas that sometimes burst into flame, creating a danger for people using public toilets.
Even with its limitations, however, Roman sanitation set a great example for the rest of the world – and even though much of the technology was lost after the fall of Rome and the subsequent Dark Ages, they at least showed the world it could be done!
Modern plumbing systems
Modern times call for modern plumbing, and sanitation systems that have been improving constantly since 1855 when the first comprehensive sewer system in America was built in the city of Chicago. Shortly after this, Louis Pasteur discovered the connection between bacteria and disease. With this knowledge, municipalities quickly adapted their sanitation systems to prevent their citizens from drinking disease-filled water.
Innovations came onto the market constantly, including high tank water closets in the 1880s, tank toilets in the 1920s, the single-handle mixing faucet in 1937, and the compensating shower valve in 1939. All of these new gadgets required specialized knowledge to install and repair, so the National Association of Plumbing, Heating, Cooling Contractors (PHCC), then known as the National Association of Master Plumbers, was born in 1883.
Today, there is a wealth of innovation and new technology available on the market, and an equal wealth of qualified plumbers to manage it! Although the materials have changed from clay and lead to cast iron and stainless steel, many modern techniques are very similar to what our ancestors used thousands of years ago.
The Plumbing & Cooling Nerds are modern plumbing masters
The Plumbing & Cooling Nerds are the proud descendants of the original National Association of Master Plumbers. Although our profession is ancient, our techniques and expertise are cutting-edge. For any plumbing issue, large or small, call us at (239) 215-3330 or send us a message through our website.